D91 is debt free, but faces deficit

District expects a $2.9M budget shortfall in fiscal year 2018-19

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By Nona Tepper

District 91 schools are debt free although the district is operating at a deficit for the second year in a row, according to a presentation by Edward Brophy, vice superintendent of operations, at a Board of Education meeting on Sept. 13.  

D91's projected revenue for fiscal year 2018-19 is $17.7 million, down about $200,000 from the year before. Expenditures are projected at $20.6 million, up from $20.4 million the year prior. The $2.9 million shortfall will likely come from reserves. The district's fiscal year runs from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019. 

"We budget conservatively for revenue and conservatively for expenditures, so our revenue is greater and our expenditures end up being lower than these numbers," Brophy said, adding: "We are debt free. We retired our debt five years ago … which saved taxpayers two payments that would have been included on their property tax bill, as well as saving about $30,000 in interest charges." 

Eighty-eight percent of the district's revenue comes from property taxes and other local sources, and the majority, or $13.3 million, is spent on instruction and instructional support, which includes D91's gifted, preschool, special education programs and more. The district anticipates spending $550,000 on student outplacement tuition for services like special education this fiscal year. Brophy said D91 has also invested more in improving teacher resources and instruction this fiscal year, working with the National Equity Project and Power Scholars Academy in an effort to improve staff understanding of equity and narrow the gap in student test scores between majority and minority groups.  

"We've increased more resources for our improvement of instruction, and that aligns directly with our strategic plan this year," Brophy said. "We are a school district where our greatest combined expenditures are for people. When you combine salaries and benefits, that's our greatest cost." 

Twenty-six percent of D91's revenue, or $5.4 million, goes toward district operations, which includes food services, transportation, building maintenance, etc. Included in this budget item is also the $50,000 that D91 spends on its crossing guards, a resource the district splits with the village. 

Nine percent, or $1.9 million, is allocated for school and district leadership.

Revenue assumptions include spending $175,000 on building improvements, and $57,950 on an upgrade to the library and media center at Field-Stevenson Intermediate Elementary School. Once D91's 10-year life safety survey is complete in early 2019, Brophy said the district also plans on transferring about $1 million from its transportation fund to its operations and maintenance account to upgrade buildings. 

Revenue assumptions include receiving 85 percent of state and federal revenue owed, since changes in leadership and the state's ability to pay have shortchanged D91 in the past, Brophy said.  

"Once there is a new governor, anything goes in terms of what could happen to the amounts we would expect to receive in the late spring," he said. "It's possible that those dollars could be impacted. We hope they wouldn't be, but we've learned over time that it's definitely good to build in some flexibility in terms of not expecting to receive all of the revenue."  

The district also assumes it will collect 97 percent of the property tax owed — "we never receive 100 percent of property tax revenue and that could be due to people who are behind on their property taxes," Brophy said — and earn $150,000 in interest from its investment portfolio. Last fiscal year, Brophy said, D91 captured about $200,000 in interest earnings from its group of investments, which is controlled by the Proviso Township school treasurer and comprises primarily bank certificates of deposits. 

"In this climate, both politically and economically, anything could happen to the markets at any time," Brophy said. "We don't want to have the expectation that we will do as well as we did in the prior year's past performance."  

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

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